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For a given total fermentation time, how bulk and proof times affect bread quality ?

Eliott's picture

For a given total fermentation time, how bulk and proof times affect bread quality ?

Say I need a total fermentation time of 7h. In terms of bread quality (crumb, rise, taste, etc...), what would be the difference between the following (for example) :

  • 0h bulk / 7h proof.
  • 2h bulk / 5h proof.
  • 3,5h bulk / 3.5h proof.
  • 4h bulk / 3h proof.
  • 6h bulk / 1h proof.
  • 7h bulk / 0h proof.  

Thanks !


Abe's picture

But one has to factor in so many things for "bread quality" your question and given parameters are a bit nonsensical. 

One has to take into account the following:

  1. Flour used
  2. Hydration
  3. The starter
  4. The pre-ferment
  5. Temperature
  6. Time
  7. Your taste buds


One can't start off with a time scale with nothing else to go on. A bread is best when it has been fermented correctly. What would be correctly for each of your examples one would have to change all the other factors. So they're all good timings and all bad timings in equal measure if the timings are right or wrong when taking into account everything else. 

How can one formulate a recipe with those parameters alone? I'm a bit lost as to how you arrived at this question. 

For example, a recipe which fits your first timings will turn out nicely but if you apply the same recipe to all other timings it won't be as nice. And this is true for every example you have given. 

How about this question...

How much water should I add to my flour? And what will produce the best results?

  • 300g
  • 325g
  • 350g
  • 375g
  • 400g
  • 425g

The only answer is... How should I know? What flour are you using? How much flour are you using? What results are you looking for? etc.

Eliott's picture

my question. I meant, all other parameters considered equal, is there an optimum ratio of bulk/proof times for the best rise / oven spring.

Abe's picture

Without expressing what the parameters are they are all equality as good or as bad as each other. A bread is best when it's fermented correctly with the given parameters. These numbers alone don't make any sense. 

mariana's picture

The answers to these questions would be bread specific, Eliott, because when you say "bread" you most likely mean some specific kind of bread and not another, let's say an English sandwich loaf or a French baguette and not a Greek pita or a Chinese steamed bun. In other words, you would have to test it using your bread dough and your mixing, fermentation, shaping, proofing and cooking (baking, steaming, frying, etc.) process to get the answers that are true for these conditions and amounts of bread and bread dough.

A lot of things are invisible, hiding behind your conditions, such as what happens before the bulk, after the bulk before proofing and after proofing. To be as strict as possible, to keep all other variables controlled, test it in a programmable bread machine, where everything is absolutely the same except times for the first and the second rise. Then you will know for sure.

Normally (in a bakery), fermentation happens during bulk fermentation and it happens at a different temperature than proofing. During bulk fermentation there is mass factor - massive pressure inside big amount of dough alters chemical processes and rising temperature at a clip of about 2C per hour as the dough ferments because yeast releases some heat as it ferments sugars. So, during bulk, the starting dough temp is not the same as the final dough temp. In seven hours of bulk fermentation the dough temp would rise from 20C to 30-35C for example! These phenomena are absent during proofing of small items. 

Proofing happens when the bread dough is ready, already reached maturity, flavor, taste, target acidity, gluten development if any, etc. Proofing mostly relaxes dough and ensures its desired shape and volume. Very rarely it has anything to do with taste or aroma, with fermentation per se.

The only commercial bread famous for its 7 hour long proof that I know of is SanFrancisco French bread, it is ultrasour precisely due to its very long proof. But its bulk fermentation is not zero either. It has normal for French sourdough bulk and extra long proof.

Normally, proof is done as short as possible or shorter than bulk, except in no time dough formulas, and for that it is done at elevated temperatures in a proofing box.

Really, in baking, in is hard to generalize. Home baking is not the same as commercial baking and everything is bread specific, depends on bread formula and the chosen processes to convert a bunch of ingredients into millions of forms of breads. Such breadth and freedom make it hard for the new bakers who want to know the rules and tendencies, one rule for everything.

Eliott's picture

My question was perheaps to broad : I meant, all other parameters considered equal, I was wondering if there was an optimum ratio of bulk/proof times for the best rise / oven spring.

mariana's picture

Try to think backwards, from proof to bulk. IF you are bulking and proofing at room temp. Let's say you are baking classic French sourdough from T55.

At 24C your shaped loaves should at least double in size in 2-2.5hours which is enough for the classic "French" look with well opened slashes and good ears. So, the rest should be bulk fermentation time when your bread dough would about triple in volume.

This is what 0.5hrs mix, 4.5hrs bulk at 15% inoculation (i.e. 15% of all flour in that bread formula comes from the starter) and 2.5hrs proof, both at 24C, and 0.5 hr bake @230C (450g loaves) give me:

Colin2's picture

The people who have responded understood your question perfectly and gave you excellent answers.  

Your question rests on the mistaken assumption that a specific recipe, a specific bread, requires x minutes total fermentation, and you then allocate those x minutes across two successive processes.  It does not work that way.  A bread may have an ideal length of bulk fermentation, given other parameters.  Once that is done and you shape the loaf there will be some ideal proof time.  Those two times add up to a number, yes, but it is not a meaningful number.  It is not like I can trade minutes between them, any more than I could, say, make my flight faster by getting a slower ride to the airport.

Is there a particular real-world problem that you are trying to solve?

Matt's picture

I am totally with you Eliott and I wonder about this a lot. I simply don't agree with this "it's all so variable or ethereal, there are no answers" type response that one sometimes gets. I am sure most people would like to think bread-making is purely an art, but the outcome basically depends on scientific principles. Now I would definitely agree that there are so many variables that can affect the outcome, it is very different to a simple science experiment in terms of predictability - I completely get that, both from scientific reasoning and my own direct experience! However, it is odd that nobody can state "all other things being equal" as you so clearly say repeatedly what, if any difference, there is to the outcome in altering the BF to FP time ratio. I am very surprised that some of the YouTubers who do experimentation changing one variable at a time for a fixed recipe, such as The Sourdough Journey guy, Tom, have not looked at this. But I get you Eliott. I completely understand your question and somebody who is an experienced baker and perhaps who knows some of the science behind the subject should be able to give a clear answer one day, I hope. Maybe next summer holiday (a long way off, sadly) I'll do a series of comparative experiments side-by-side?

Missmoneypenny's picture

All other things being equal, I’d go for 6h Bf and 1 hour final fermentation ( ie preshaping). I’ve come to this conclusion mostly through Tom Cucuzza’s videos and tools. This gives me a better rise. He’s the Sourdough Journey guy.

Matt's picture

The funny thing is that when I bought the Tartine book, he seems to have a relatively short BF (size increase 20-30%) and I think a long FP which, presumably, results in much more than a rise of 20-30% by the end. It is bizarre that whilst Tom obsesses endlessly about this recipe, he does not seem to mention or follow this, and has not done any BF:FP comparison experiments. Perhaps one day he will?